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Nearly half of all principal operators of family farms and their spouses work off the farm, but the share varies by farm type

Monday, March 16, 2020

USDA’s Economic Research Service classifies farm households based on the annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) of the farm that they operate, and further separates small farms by the primary occupation of the principal operator. Data from USDA’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey consistently show that income earned off the farm is an important source of income for most farm households. Nearly half of all family farm operators and their spouses reported having a job off the farm in 2018. In general, spouses of principal operators are more likely to work off the farm, except among those classified as off-farm occupation farms. However, off-farm employment varies across farm types. For example, only 11 percent of operators of large farms and 3 percent of very large farms have a job off the farm, while between 17 and 19 percent of those operating low-sales, moderate-sales, and mid-size farms have an off-farm job. About 20 percent of operators on retirement farms hold off-farm jobs. This chart appears in the December 2019 report, America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2019 Edition.

Highest U.S. poverty rates are in the South, with over 20 percent poor in its rural areas

Friday, March 13, 2020

People living in poverty tend to be clustered in certain U.S. regions, counties, and neighborhoods, rather than being spread evenly across the Nation. Poverty rates in rural (nonmetro) areas have historically been higher than in urban (metro) areas, and the rural/urban poverty gap is greater in some regions of the country than others. At the regional level, poverty is disproportionately concentrated in the rural South. In 2014-18, the South had an average rural poverty rate of 20.5 percent—nearly 6 percentage points higher than the average rate in the region’s urban areas. An estimated 42.7 percent of the Nation’s rural population and 51.3 percent of the Nation’s rural poor lived in this region between 2014 and 2018. By comparison, 37.1 percent of the urban population and 39.4 percent of the urban poor lived in the South during that period. The poverty gap was smallest in the Midwest and the Northeast—with less than a percentage point difference between rural and urban poverty rates. This chart appears on the Economic Research Service topic page for Rural Poverty & Well-being, updated February 2020.

Weather sours U.S. and Mexican sugar production in 2019/20

Monday, March 9, 2020

Sugar production in the United States and globally is dependent upon two crops: sugarbeets, grown in higher, typically colder latitudes; and sugarcane, which grows in lower, typically more tropical latitudes. Poor weather conditions have diminished the production outlook for both the U.S. sugarbeet crop—particularly in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Montana—and the sugarcane crop, especially in Louisiana. Sugar output is also expected to be significantly lower for 2019/20 in Mexico—the United States’ largest foreign sugar supplier—as drought conditions in several key sugarcane-producing regions are expected to reduce output considerably. The combined 2019/20 U.S. and Mexican sugar production is projected to be 9.7 percent below that in 2018/19, the lowest collective output since 2011/12. The reduced supply expectations are the main reason why the U.S. sugar market is forecast to be at its tightest since 2010/11, and why current U.S. wholesale refined sugar prices are 19 percent higher for cane sugar and 26 percent higher for beet sugar compared with a year ago. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service Sugar and Sweeteners Monthly Outlook Report and the Sugar and Sweetener Yearbook Tables.

Less fluid milk in the U.S. marketplace, but more of it was low-fat in 2017 than 40 years earlier

Friday, March 6, 2020

According to Economic Research Service (ERS) food availability data, the per person supply of fluid cow’s milk available for Americans to drink decreased by 40 percent over 1977-2017, from 29.0 to 17.3 gallons per person. Whole milk availability drove this decline, falling from 18.7 gallons per person in 1977 to a low of 5.1 gallons in 2014, then up to 5.7 gallons in 2017. Availability of milk with 2 percent milk fat grew from 5.5 gallons per person in 1977 to a high of 9.2 gallons in 1989 before falling to 5.8 gallons in 2017. In 2005, 2 percent milk replaced whole milk as the most popular milk type. Availability of 1 percent milk has held steady at around 2.5 gallons per person for the last two decades, and skim milk reached its peak in 1997 at 3.9 gallons per person. Several factors—including competition from alternative beverages, an aging population, and changing consumer attitudes and preferences regarding milk fats—affect trends in U.S. per person milk availability. The data for this chart come from the ERS Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System.

U.S. acres planted with industrial hemp expanded rapidly in 2019

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

After a hiatus of almost 45 years, the Agricultural Act of 2014, Public Law 113-79 (the 2014 Farm Bill) reintroduced industrial hemp production in the United States through State pilot programs. Industrial hemp is a strain of Cannabis sativa that is low in active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is grown specifically for a variety of industrial products. Production of industrial hemp beyond the pilot programs was legalized in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Public Law 115-334 (the 2018 Farm Bill). By mid-2019, 47 States had passed legislation to allow some form of hemp production and planted acreage reported to the USDA Farm Service Agency increased from zero in 2013 to 32,464 in 2018 to 146,065 in 2019. Hemp competes for acreage against crops with established markets and decades of agronomic research and industry experience. Through 2019, the largest hemp acreage is found in States that are not leading producers of conventional field crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, or cotton. This chart is based on information in the Economic Research Service report, Economic Viability of Industrial Hemp in the United States: A Review of State Pilot Programs.

Minimum hourly agricultural wage rates are highest in Washington and Oregon

Monday, March 2, 2020

The H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program provides a legal means to bring in foreign-born workers into the United States on a short-term basis. Workers employed on an H-2A visa may remain in the U.S. for up to 10 months at a time. Employers must demonstrate and the U.S. Department of Labor must certify that efforts to recruit U.S. workers were not successful. Employers must also pay a State-specific minimum wage, known as the Adverse Effect Wage Rate (AEWR). The rate is set at the region’s average farm wage to prevent H-2A employment from negatively affecting domestic farmworkers by lowering their wages. For fiscal 2019, this minimum hourly wage was highest in Oregon and Washington at $15.03, followed by Hawaii at $14.73. The wage rate was also high in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas at $14.38. By comparison, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina had the lowest minimum wages at $11.13. This chart appears in the Economic Research Service topic page for Farm Labor, updated January 2020.

Food insecurity among children was at lowest recorded rate in 2018

Friday, February 28, 2020

Food-insecure households have difficulty providing enough food for all members due to a lack of money or other resources for obtaining food. USDA measures food insecurity in households with children in several different ways. In 2018, 13.9 percent of U.S. households with children were food insecure: in these households, someone was food insecure, but not necessarily the children. In a little over half of these households—7.1 percent of U.S. households with children—both children and adults were food insecure. Both of these indicators, food insecurity in households with children and food insecurity among children, were at their lowest levels since 1998. The prevalence of very low food security among children was 0.6 percent in 2018. In these households experiencing the more severe range of food insecurity, caregivers reported that children were hungry, skipped a meal, or did not eat for a whole day because there was not enough money for food. This chart appears in “Food Insecurity Among Children Has Declined Overall But Remains High for Some Groups” in the December 2019 issue of the USDA, Economic Research Service Amber Waves magazine.

Price of fertilizer and prices received for crops have been relatively volatile since 2002

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Fertilizers provide nutrients (such as nitrogen) essential in the production of crops. The amount of fertilizer farmers use can be affected by changes in the price of the fertilizer, variation in production practice (such as the type of tillage employed and crop mix), and the price received for the crops. From 1960 through 2002, both fertilizer prices paid and crop prices received by farmers increased in tandem at a fairly modest rate. Between 2002 and 2008, annual fertilizer prices paid by farmers increased rapidly (generally much faster than increases in crop prices received by farmers) and became more volatile. Fertilizer price increases through 2008 were largely driven by high energy prices and the record costs of natural gas (a basic input to produce nitrogen). In response to record fertilizer prices in 2008, farmers reduced their use of fertilizers, contributing to a decline of 18 percent in fertilizer prices through 2010. Fertilizer prices recovered somewhat through 2012—driven by strong domestic demand for plant nutrients due to high crop prices, and limited domestic production capacity—before declining again. Since June 2017, fertilizer prices have trended upwards, along with crop prices received. Using an index that sets 2011 price levels to 100, farmers paid 66.7 for fertilizer and received 86.8 for their crops in 2018. In other words, farmers paid less for fertilizer and received less money for their crops in 2018 than they did in 2011. This chart appears in the USDA, Economic Research Service data product, Fertilizer Use and Price, updated October 2019.

U.S. hog industry establishes a new, higher level in litter rates in 2019

Monday, February 24, 2020

The USDA Quarterly Hogs and Pigs report issued on December 23, 2019 indicated that the U.S. hog industry achieved a third consecutive quarterly litter rate of 11 or more pigs per litter. National litter rates of 11 pigs per litter or more have been a long-standing goal of the U.S. hog industry, although such litter rates have been commonplace in Canada (particularly in Manitoba) and in Europe for quite some time. Factors contributing to the 11+ litter rates in the United States last year—the September-November litter rate of 11.09, the June-August litter rate of 11.11, and the March-May rate of 11 pigs per litter—are varied; they include innovations in pre- and postnatal sow and weanling management and care, sow nutrition, weather adaptations, and management of disease occurrences. Chief among litter-rate enhancement factors, however, are improvements in genetics. Superior litter rates in 2019 likely indicate that distribution and optimal utilization of high-quality genetics is gaining traction in the industry. The suggestion of “more to come” is supported by considerable anecdotal evidence of trickle down effects of genetics transfers from nucleus farms to multiplier farms and then on to commercial farms. It is likely that higher litter rates will characterize the near future of U.S. pork production as highly productive genetics spread further in the U.S. commercial hog sector. This chart was previously published in the USDA, Economic Research Service report, Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook: January 2020.

United States losing dominance in the South Korean corn import market

Friday, February 21, 2020

Since 2010, the United States has been losing its dominant position as a corn import supplier to South Korea. Although Mexico is the largest foreign market for U.S. corn, before 2011 South Korea was a large and stable purchaser. However, the U.S. share in South Korea’s corn imports has dropped from 84 percent during the years of 2007-2011 to 46 percent during 2015-2019. In 2012, drought in the United States contributed to the loss in its corn export share vis-à-vis South Korea (and the entire world market) in that year. Yet, the main reason for the decline in U.S. corn export share with South Korea since 2012 has been that the amount of corn supplied by export competitors—in particular, Brazil and Argentina—has risen as large crops in those countries increased their price competitiveness (with some annual fluctuation). South Korea is a very price-sensitive grain importer, and Brazil and Argentina have been supplying corn at attractively low prices. The U.S. loss of corn import share in South Korea is part of a general trend of declining U.S. corn export share in the world, despite higher global corn trade and slightly growing U.S. corn production. This chart was previously published in the ERS Feed Outlook report released in January 2020.

2020 inflation in grocery store food prices expected to remain low

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Grocery store food prices in the United States have seen low inflation or deflation since 2015. Given current conditions, ERS expects a continuation of the low inflation trend into 2020. Food-at-home prices are forecast to increase between 0.5 and 1.5 percent, below the current 20-year historic average of 2.0 percent. The previous period of low inflation in retail food prices, which occurred in 2009 and 2010, was due largely to the economy-wide downturn caused by the 2007-09 Great Recession. The current period of low food-price inflation, however, is taking place during a time of U.S. economic expansion. Contributing factors for this period of low food-price inflation include retail pricing strategies, efficient food supply chains, slow wage growth, and relatively low oil prices. Within grocery sub-categories, price changes in 2020 are expected to vary. More information on ERS’s monthly food price forecasts can be found in the ERS Food Price Outlook data product, which will be updated on February 25, 2020.

Productivity growth is the major source of growth in U.S. agricultural output

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Technological developments in agriculture have been influential in driving changes in the farm sector. Innovations in animal and crop genetics, chemicals, equipment, and farm organization have enabled continuing output growth without adding much to inputs (including land, labor, machinery, and intermediate goods). As a result, even as the amount of land and labor used in farming declined, total farm output nearly tripled between 1948 and 2017. During this period, agricultural output grew at an average annual rate of 1.53 percent, compared to 0.07 percent for total farm inputs. Output growth was largely driven by the growth in agricultural productivity, as measured by total factor productivity (TFP)—the difference between the growth of aggregate output and growth of aggregate inputs. Between 1948 and 2017, TFP grew at an average annual rate of 1.46 percent. In the short term, TFP estimates can fluctuate from time to time—reflecting transitive events, such as bad weather or oil shocks—but it usually recovers and returns to its long-term trend growth, as has happened in recent years. This chart appears in the ERS data product, Agricultural Productivity in the U.S., updated January 2020.

USDA agencies funded $287.7 million towards 213 research projects on automation or mechanization in specialty crops, 2008-2018

Friday, February 14, 2020

At $64.7 billion, specialty crops comprised one-third of U.S. crop receipts and one-sixth of receipts for all agricultural products in 2017. Many specialty crops are labor-intensive in production, harvesting, or processing. For example, harvest often requires workers to accurately distinguish ripe and unripe fruits and vegetables and gently pick, sort, or package the fruit or vegetable by hand without damage. A long-term decline in the supply of farm labor in the U.S. has encouraged producers to select less labor-intensive crops, invest in labor-saving technologies, and develop strategies to increase labor productivity. A number of USDA programs support the development and use of automation or mechanization in the production and processing of U.S. specialty crops. From 2008-2018 these programs in the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) funded $287.7 million toward 213 projects to develop and enhance the use of automation or mechanization in specialty crop production and processing. Projects covered a broad spectrum of technologies, including job aid and machinery automation; machine learning and data analysis; mechanical harvesting and processing; precision agriculture; remote sensing and drones; and sensors. Each of the USDA programs are designed differently to achieve unique objectives, although each program addresses the development and use of automation or mechanization in specialty crops in some form. The data in this chart are available in the February 2020 ERS report, Developing Automation and Mechanization for Specialty Crops: A Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs.

U.S. per capita consumption of total meat was up in 2017

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

In 2017, the per capita supply of red meat, poultry, and fish and shellfish available for Americans to eat, after adjusting for some of the spoilage, plate waste, and other losses in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes, rose to 143.9 pounds, continuing an upward trend that began in 2014 after an earlier decline. The 7.8-percent rise from 2014’s total was largely driven by increases in loss-adjusted availability of beef and chicken. Over 2015-17, beef had the largest percentage increase in per capita loss-adjusted availability—growing by 6 percent. Recovering consumer incomes after the 2007-09 recession and stable or declining retail prices have increased U.S. consumers’ demand for red meat in recent years. For chicken, the recent increase continues an upward trend that saw loss-adjusted availability of chicken more than doubling from 22.4 pounds per capita in 1970 to 52.3 pounds per capita in 2017. Efficiencies in chicken production have expanded supplies and kept prices in check. This chart appears in “U.S. Per Capita Availability of Red Meat, Poultry, and Seafood on the Rise” in ERS’s December 2019 Amber Waves.

Production contracts dominate hog and poultry production, while marketing contracts are more widely used in crops and dairy

Monday, February 10, 2020

Contracts are widely used in the production and sale of U.S agricultural commodities. Under marketing contracts, ownership of the commodity remains with the farmer during production, with little involvement from the contractor. By comparison, under a production contract, the contractor usually owns the commodity (e.g., the chicks for poultry operations) during production and often provides specific inputs and services, production guidelines, and technical advice to the grower—who receives a contract fee for raising the commodity. Across all commodities, the value of contract production was nearly evenly split between marketing and production contracts in 2018. However, the use of contract types varies sharply across commodities. Most contract crop production (except for seeds and some processing vegetables) used marketing contracts, as did all contract dairy production. In contrast, production contracts were used extensively for the production of hogs and poultry. Some hogs may be raised under a production contract between a grower and an integrator (an intermediary that coordinates production), and then sold by the integrator under a marketing contract with a processor, who slaughters and processes the animal for sale. This chart updates data found in the July 2019 Amber Waves article, “Marketing and Production Contracts Are Widely Used in U.S. Agriculture.”

Food-insecure households purchase less fruit than food-secure households

Friday, February 7, 2020

ERS researchers used data from USDA’s National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS) to examine purchases of fruit from supermarkets, supercenters, convenience stores, and other retailers (food-at-home purchases) by two groups of low-income households: food-secure and food-insecure households. Food-secure households have consistent, dependable access to enough food for active, healthy living; food-insecure households do not. The researchers looked at total fruit purchases (whole and juices) and whole fruit purchases. They converted household purchases to “per adult equivalents,” where household members are scaled by daily calorie requirements based on their age and sex using 2,000 calories as an adult equivalent. The conversion accounts for differences in household size and composition. The researchers found that low-income food-secure households purchased 7.1 cup equivalents of fruit per adult equivalent per week, versus the 3.6 cups purchased by low-income food insecure households. In terms of whole fruit, food-insecure households purchased just under 2 cup equivalents per adult equivalent per week, while food-secure households purchased 4 cups per adult equivalent. This chart appears in the August 2019 ERS report, Food Security and Food Purchase Quality Among Low-Income Households: Findings From the National Household Food Acquisition and Purchase Survey (FoodAPS).

Forecast for farm sector profits in 2020 near average levels since 2000

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

U.S. net cash farm income—gross cash income less cash expenses—when adjusted for inflation is forecast to decrease $13.1 billion (10.7 percent) to $109.6 billion in 2020. U.S. net farm income—a broader measure of farm sector profitability that incorporates noncash items including economic depreciation and gross imputed rental income—is forecast to increase $1.4 billion (1.4 percent) from 2019 to $96.7 billion in 2020. If forecast changes are realized, net cash farm income in 2020 would be 0.6 percent below its inflation-adjusted average calculated over the 2000-18 period, while net farm income would be 5.4 percent above its 2000-18 average. The trajectories of the two income measures diverge in 2020 largely because of how net sales from inventories are treated. Net cash farm income records income in the year the sale took place, while net farm income counts it in the year the production occurred. High net sales ($14.9 billion) from crop inventories forecast in 2019 are expected to boost net cash farm income significantly that year. Very low net sales from inventories ($0.5 billion) in 2020 are expected to contribute to a decrease in net cash farm income between the two years. In the net farm income series, net inventory changes are removed from cash receipts and track more closely with the value of annual agricultural production. Find additional information and analysis on the ERS Farm Sector Income and Finances topic page, reflecting data released February 5, 2020.

Volatility in market prices for fruit and vegetables helps drive food loss during production and distribution

Monday, February 3, 2020

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that annually, over $161 billion of food at the retail and consumer stage of the supply chain goes uneaten. Food loss also occurs on farms and in the pre-retail distribution channels—the Food and Agricultural Organization estimated 30 percent of losses in fruits and vegetables occur in these earlier stages. USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently examined the substantial role that expected costs, revenues, and risks play in food loss at the pre-retail level. Factors influencing food loss include price volatility: for example, vegetables have exhibited a relative variation in price more than 20 times that of grains used for feed. When prices fall below the cost of production, it becomes unprofitable for growers to advance produce through the supply chain. Alternatively, when prices rise, growers harvest more intensively, and may have the incentive to send lower-cosmetic-quality product to market, which can then be subject to increased loss further down the supply chain. Other economic factors that influence the level of food loss include labor cost and availability, availability of cold-chain infrastructure, aesthetic standards, consumer preferences, contract requirements, and policies related to the harvest and marketing of fresh produce. This chart appears in the recent ERS report, Economic Drivers of Food Loss at the Farm and Pre-Retail Sectors: A Look at the Produce Supply Chain in the United States.

About a third of beginning farms and half of established farms produced at least $10,000 worth of output between 2013 and 2017

Friday, January 31, 2020

From 2013 to 2017, there were an average of 898,100 operators with no more than 10 years of farming experience. Of these beginning farmers, a little more than half (461,400) were operators of beginning farms, or those farms on which all the operators were beginning farmers. Overall, there were an average of 339,400 beginning farms and 1,691,400 established farms between 2013 and 2017. About a third of beginning farms and half of established farms produced at least $10,000 worth of output. Beginning farms (67 percent) were also more likely than established farms (52 percent) to be very small, generating less than $10,000 worth of output. Although the majority of beginning and established farms were very small, these operations contributed a relatively low share of production—accounting for about 2 percent of output from all beginning farms and 1 percent from all established farms. This chart appears in the ERS report, An Overview of Beginning Farms and Farmers, released September 2019.

Throughout most of the day, more women prepared food than did men in 2014-2017

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

ERS researchers used data for 2014-17 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual American Time Use Survey (ATUS) to determine when Americans engage in food preparation and to look at gender differences. Over an average day in 2014-17, 54 percent of people age 15 and older engaged in food preparation with a noticeable gender disparity: 65 percent of women prepared food on an average day, compared to 41 percent of men. Counting only those Americans who prepared food on the day recorded in the survey, an average of 51 minutes per day were devoted to the activity, and women devoted more time than men (57 minutes versus 42 minutes). The peak times for food preparation were at 7 to 7:59 a.m. (14 percent), followed by a smaller peak at noon to 12:59 p.m. (12 percent) and a much larger peak at 5 to 5:59 p.m. (28 percent). More women than men engaged in food preparation from 7 a.m. to 6:59 p.m. A version of this chart appears in the ERS report, Food-Related Time Use: Changes and Demographic Differences, November 2019.

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